When talking about finding a job or filling a position, the word ‘fit’ get thrown around a lot. Unfortunately, ‘fit’ has become a buzzword, and everytime it gets flung around, it loses a little more of its intended meaning.

I’m just as guilty as anyone, I love this word. In an effort to be part of the solution rather than the problem, I’m examining exactly what ‘fit’ means.

You are likely not in a perfect job (perfect for you, at least) and many of us perhaps never actually find the perfect fit at work. Some people are perfectly OK with this and dedicate time outside of work to following passions and feeling fulfilled. I am not one of those people. If you’re not either, keep reading…

To make matters more confusing, the term can be completely relative and fluid. I would certainly say that I have been in jobs that were a great fit at first but then because of a change in staffing, management or my own personal growth, I came to the decision to leave because that fit was there once but it was gone.

Fit is highly dependent on a company’s culture… Culture is another term that’s difficult to define and perhaps misunderstood. Many startups (and I pick on startups because I lived in that world for five years) talk about the importance of culture. They offer all sorts of interesting benefits, from flex time to free meals to funky work spaces and free drinks in order to define their culture. However, culture is so much more than perks–it stems from leadership and all the coolest perks in the world can’t make up for bad leadership.

But wait… How do you define good culture? And how do you define good leadership? And can’t these things be vastly different?

I confess this post had been sitting in my drafts half written for quite some time. I had lunch with a friend a few weeks back who inadvertently answered what I couldn’t quite put my finger on here and in other aspects of life.

It’s not about culture, or even leadership. Not about perks, interesting projects, work/life balance, the distance from your home or any of those things we usually weigh in our heads when debating a new job. Only one thing really matters when it comes to what will make you happy. Your values and how well those values align with the company you are considering.

Oh, how simple that sounds! Funny enough, at the last job interview I had, I outright said what was most important to me was to have shared values with my employer and the people I work with. The obvious follow-up question: “Well, then, what are your values?”

I froze. I stumbled. I rambled off some obvious things. “I guess, I don’t really know?”

Fortunately the rest of the interview went much better, because I got the job (spoiler: I’m talking about my current job) and I’m quite happy with the fit. A lucky guess I suppose.

I still have a bit of an unfulfilled itch (I am ambitious and energetic, after all), but rather than trying everything to see what sticks–the old spaghetti-on-the-wall method–my current side project is to define exactly what those values are.

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